UPDATED Sept. 4: Wilkinson School in El Granada and Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay both received waivers this week allowing them to open their doors for in-person learning.
Kindergarten through second-grade students will return to Sea Crest’s campus the week of Sept. 14, with third- through fifth-graders returning the following week, Head of School Lauren Miller said.
Marketing and Community Engagement Manager Isabel Mason said Wilkinson plans to reopen as soon as Sept. 10, but intends to bring back only kindergarten and first-grade students for now. Mason said the school may eventually bring older elementary school students back as well, but would first consult with families and staff.
The waiver is from San Mateo County, which announced it would allow elementary schools to reopen their doors if they met a strict set of safety criteria and are approved by the county office of education, county health department and California Department of Public Health.
Miller said the process of applying for a waiver was rigorous and the school’s responses were vetted through the county and state, requiring extensive documentation of safety protocols and cohort plans. She said she feels much more confident in reopening safely under these guidelines than if the county were to get out from under state monitoring and be allowed to reopen schools unconditionally.
For Wilkinson, Mason said, the waiver process was an opportunity to expand the school’s options and begin slowly implementing its reopening plan, which brings cohorts of students back to campus gradually by grade level. Mason said the priority is getting the youngest students back in order to promote socialization and reduce screen time.
“Distance learning has been the hardest on them,” Mason said.
Wilkinson school leaders say utilizing outdoor space and the school’s small class sizes are the tickets to a safe reopening, as is the strength of their small community. During some non-instructional activities hosted on campus, like art and supplies pickups or one-on-one assessments allowed by the county, Mason said students have been successfully abiding by the rules.
“Because we’re so small and our teachers and students have such an intimate relationship and knowledge of each other, we’re able to provide that added layer of safety and not lose the social aspect,” Mason said.
Sea Crest’s Junior Kindergarten program has been running an in-person childcare for two weeks without incident, and Miller said students are adapting to the new rules quickly.
“We know how to teach them to follow routines,” Miller said. “It was just about using our teachers’ knowledge and apply that to safety routines.”
Miller said that part of her motivation to apply for a waiver were the many Sea Crest families who had nowhere else to turn for childcare while both parents had to report to work in essential sectors.
“They have been really struggling with how to do their jobs,” Miller said. “The strain has been deep and great.”
Even after reopening, both Wilkinson and Sea Crest students who wish to continue with remote learning will be allowed to do so, and students at the middle school level for both schools will stay online for the foreseeable future.
Miller said she plans to invite area principals and administrators, including Cabrillo Unified School District leaders, to come observe Sea Crest’s reopening to help them create a successful reopening plan for their campuses. CUSD leaders have said they’re interested in applying for a waiver and will take the steps to do so, but have to consult with labor unions and families prior to making any reopening decisions. Leaders at La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District have not yet indicated if they will seek out an elementary school waiver from the county.
“We want to use this as a learning opportunity amongst the community … to start modeling the way we can safely try to regain some sense of normalcy in our schools,” Miller said.